What a good conservation organization looks like

You know, we have a history on this blog of criticizing Sea Shepherd. We frequently criticize their methods, motivations, and effectiveness (we also went out of our way to add opposing views when we raised such a contentious issue). For a select group of readers, criticizing one conservation organization is tantamount to criticizing them all. If we say Sea Shepherd has been ineffective in protecting sharks, inevitably someone will assume that we’re in favor of shark finning. I don’t understand that leap of logic, but I’ve seen it come up so often that I know to expect it, probably even on this post. I can also expect someone to say “At least they’re doing something!” That is, of course, completely missing the point, since our argument is that the ‘something’ they’re doing is making it harder to affect real, lasting, change.

So let me begin by saying this – assume Sea Shepherd’s motives are absolutely pure, assume they really are try to protect the oceans, assume their commitment is absolute, then our main argument is still sound – they aren’t doing a very good job and they are generating a lot of ill will in the process. strplogo1

“Oh sure,” you say, “you can rag on Sea Shepherd ’til your face turns blue. Why don’t you show us someone who’s doing it right?”

Enter STRP.

I’m going to give a hat tip to the MarineBioBlog now, instead of at the end, since you really should go read their post before you continue. It’s very good and I’d hate to steal another blog’s thunder.

The Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP) was founded 20 years ago. In 1989, they sought to close down a sea turtle slaughterhouse in Mexico. By 1990, not only had they succeeded, but they brought an end to legal turtle slaughter in Mexico. They’ve convinced 20 nations to use turtle-excluding equipment in shrimp fleets and created a 200,000 square mile Leatherback Conservation Area, among other achievements. They’ve also helped form other grassroots organizations, some as far away as Papua New Guinea.

The Sea Turtle Restoration Project fights to protect endangered sea turtles in ways that make cultural and economic sense to the communities that share the beaches and waters with these gentle creatures. With offices in California, Texas, Papua New Guinea, and Costa Rica, STRP has been leading the international fight to protect sea turtle populations worldwide. STRP mission statement

Education, outreach, and community engagement. Making conservation an issue for those most directly affected by conservation initiatives. This is how conservation efforts succeed. This is why direct action fails. Direct action alienates the people who are most essential to the process. Ramming and sinking ships and disrupting fishing operations make great TV. They attract donors. They have satisfying short term gains. Stopping a whaling ship or cutting a longline seems like the most direct, most effective way to stop these activities. It feels good to free a whale, or cut loose a shark, stop a seal clubbing. But whaling continues, shark finning continues, the seal hunt continues.

STRP operates on a shoestring budget, with at most 10 volunteers at any one time. Sea Shepherd has orders of magnitude more resources, and orders of magnitude less success. STRP has raised awareness of conservation issue to the people most directly affected, the people who share the beaches and the fisheries with sea turtles. Sea Shepherd has raised awareness of conservation issues to people disconnected from the issues at hand, people who’s lives and livelihoods are not directly connected to the issue at hand. In 20 years, STRP has achieved the goals set forth at its founding, and surpassed them all. Sea Shepherd has achieved exactly none of original goals.

This isn’t about who believes what. This isn’t a game of “who cares the most about the environment”. The people who volunteer at Sea Shepherd are as dedicated and generous of heart as the people who volunteer for STRP. This is an issue of method. The philosophy of Direct Action does not affect lasting change towards conservation goals.

When you alienate the people who have the most invested, the people who’s livelihood currently depend on these activities; when you make them an enemy, vilify them, you will lose. And when that happens, we all lose.

~Southern Fried Scientist

hat tip MarineBioBlog


January 1, 2010 • 12:00 am